Friday, September 6, 2013

FL - Sex offender laws target wrong people

Shana Rowan
Shana Rowan
Original Article


By Shana Rowan (USA Fair, Blog)

Historically, society has welcomed tough sex offender laws without any proof that they actually work. The Sun Sentinel observed, "…as too often happens after a high-profile tragedy, we make a big show, pass a new law and rarely check back to see if the fix solved the problem."

There are people on the sex-offender registry for horrific, inconceivable acts toward children (and adults.) Some will do it again given the chance. Others will escalate to something even worse. These individuals need to be kept away from society, in prison or treatment centers.

Lack of funding and accurate risk assessment are two reasons the depraved individuals highlighted by your paper were able to commit new crimes. But another major factor is the insurmountable resources usurped by the restriction and monitoring of tens of thousands of other former offenders whose crimes include consensual sex with underage partners, public indecency and other nonviolent crimes.

Florida's sex offender laws are already some of the toughest in the nation. Without reviewing the effectiveness of these laws, as emphasized by your paper, or the two decades worth of research compiled since the Jimmy Ryce Act, how can lawmakers expect to change anything for the better, regardless of their intent?

Sex offender recidivism is surprisingly very low. Claims of high recidivism can be attributed to the type of offenders our laws are supposed to target: serial pedophiles with pre-pubescent victims, who unlike other types of sex offenders, re-offend at higher rates.

While well-intentioned, a focus on previous sex offenses ignores the fact that virtually every perpetrator convicted of a high-profile murder against a child shared something else: a lengthy criminal rap sheet of mostly non-sexual convictions.

No sex offender law — not a mandatory sentence, public registration, or banishment from schools and parks — will prevent sex crimes if they target the wrong people. Treating every offender as a future child rapist and killer is counter-productive.

People who have been offense-free for years, and have families and children of their own, are being forced out of their homes, into fields and under bridges, while those who pose the greatest risk are, as the Sun Sentinel put it, "set free to rape and molest again."

If we as community members cannot find the maturity or courage to have an intelligent conversation about sexual violence, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when your paper runs the same story next year.

Shana Rowan is the executive director of USA FAIR, Inc. in Washington, DC.

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